Okay, so I still have some negativity issues.
Yet my faith in humanity was somewhat restored when I came here to Palestine and encountered a vibrant Arabic music scene. Not to say that it's not subject to the same market forces as American music—perhaps the most widely listened-to stuff here is just like the stuff back in America, meaning that the more popular it is, the dumber it probably is. But even if the lyrics somehow manage to scrape the bottom of the intellectual and moral barrel that America's popular music inhabits (L-l-l-lick it like a lollipop...), it still sounds more authentic; computers have not run amok on the landscape of Arabic music as they have back in the States. Not to mention that the male performers of Arabic songs actually sing—and beautifully—rather than shout.
At weddings and parties in Palestine, the music is usually accompanied by a robust dance known as dabke (pronounced DUB-KAH). Although I still haven't participated in a dabke session yet, it looks like the most enjoyable dance on earth. You stand shoulder-to-shoulder with your mates and, in a manner of touching fraternity, extend your arms outright to grasp their shoulders and they do the same. Then you let your legs do the rest as the line bounces and bends festively in different directions. I've seen a couple dabke shows so far, but my camera has been completely unable to handle the responsibility of taking an adequate picture in the Ramallah Cultural Palace, so the only image I have to offer of this amazing dance in action is a shot of the shabaab in Nablus kicking up dust with a particularly rowdy dabke session around a tricked-out car which unfortunately fell just outside the frame.
Below is a video of Tamer in action. It doesn't take much listening to realize that "habibi" is one his favorite words, which is the standard fare for any Arab singer. Though it literally translates to "my darling," the term "habibi" can roughly be equated to American pop's use of "baby" when used in a musical context. And while American pop seems obsessed with sex, Arabic pop is undoubtedly obsessed with love - although I won't discount the possibility that buried deep, deep within these songs may be some sort of erotic message.
Speaking of erotic messages, I had quite the unsettling experience on a bus full of fourth graders during a field trip from the English camp the other day. Please read on, it's not what it seems!
We were on our way to the swimming pool in the village of Bir Zeit. Since the trip took about a half hour, popular Arabic music videos were played over the bus's AV system for the kids to watch and sing along to while we waited to arrive. All of the music videos were obviously geared towards children, except for one by a Lebanese singer named Haifa Wehbe. Scantily clad in lingerie, she "plays" with a three year-old boy throughout the course of the video, feeding him, blowing bubbles with him, even bathing him with an air of sexuality that makes it quite obvious that the video is not really directed at the hearts of young boys, but the penises of grown men. Would anyone else consider the below video evidence of some sort of subtle, yet insidious child abuse?
Finally, I will say that although I have not spent nearly as much time in Israel, it seems to lack a comparably independent popular music culture—on all the Israeli buses I've ridden on, the music coming out of the speakers is usually in English and often something I've heard before. But let me stress that I am talking about popular music—I imagine that Israel has just as vibrant of an underground music scene as any other industrialized, middle-class country full of bored youth.